Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Untold Church of Cebu

5:00 am, hotel bed side clock beaten because of snoozing.  6:30 am, decided to move, sipped last night's stale coffee, took few bites from the complimentary fruit platter, and went off to visit the rarely photographed 17th century Patrocinio de Sta. Maria Church in Boljoon, three hours from Cebu city.

The South Terminal of Cebu city is a good transport hub if you want to explore Cebu south by bus. Buses to Argao, Carcar, Oslob, etc. are all there. I took one going to Boljoon. Before boarding, I stood in the busy terminal looking for the "Series" bus company since the bellboy repeatedly said, "sir take Series bus para comfortable." Didn't find it so just took an ordinary bus and when I opened the window, saw a big bus with a logo "Ceres" passed by. Missed it.

Boljoon Church's introduction was cinematic. Her shape stood hidden from the different mountains facing Bohol Strait and slowly revealed itself while our bus went down the main coastal highway. Her sea-blasted and weather-faded white facade remarked by its 17th century baroque architecture, ages gracefully and separates itself from the renovated surroundings of the church.

The front lawns are massive. Once in a while, locals stay here for occasional gatherings before a procession for example, or just to hang out. Can't blame them, a view this good is definitely inviting. I took this opportunity to relax before hearing the 10am mass.  

Mass was celebrated in Cebuano, wherein English phrases was like a cold Coke in the desert. Once mass is over, Patrocinio de Sta. Maria of Boljoon is silent and empty. It is during these silent moments I like staying inside churches. The size of the interior was huge and highlighted by the different 17th century details like windows set on top of her wide pillars made of mortar and lime.  

Photographing Cebuano kids while hearing their voices and slippers echo inside the old church were definitely good notes to remember.

Weather once again played its teasing role. If mother nature decides not to open her robe today and throw buckets of rain, live with it. You will see here how I had a good time looking for shadows while rain poured outside, or while I walked inside the quarters of the church.  

The best part is meeting new friends like Bonie the "kampanero" or bell guardian, and Mateo the pedicab driver. Bonie lets me inside the 18th century bell tower separated from the main church. He told me different stories from how nitwits tried to take one of the really heavy bells. Beats any "Italian Job" sequel. "Pag gusto talaga, gagawan ng paraan" as Bonie said, or if willing, there's a way; and also the different times of the day he needed to sound the bell before mass starts as reminders for the locals.

Mateo on the other hand is the skillful (left hand on the handle bar and right hand pointing out to tell me “that’s Bohol and Siquijor island” while making sharp turns) pedicab driver who gave me a tour of the small roads that lead to the other barangays. But it was a guilt trip for me, why? Imagine this, Mateo must be in is 60s, peddling an all steel pedi cab and the heavy me as his passenger. He had fun that's what he said. Maybe it's because of the casual stops for a sweet banana and a soda near the town's plaza.

I needed to go back to the city and anticipate Cebu's traffic. A night stay could have been a good choice, but that's too much for my senses already. This time I caught a Ceres bus or the "Series", entered my cold, fragrant, and newly made-up hotel room, finished a freshly brewed coffee, and finished this story.

Our 7,107 islands has lots of "brochured" or canned tourist spots. But like what I tell my readers, always choose the road less traveled and think the opposite, trust your adventure and travel senses, ask around, and you'll see a place to feed your one of a kind "trip."

Cebu is not only about it's tapered hotels, dried mangoes, and over fed whale sharks in Oslob. It's also about the other untold churches waiting to be discovered and photographed!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

An Endangered Lighthouse in Batangas

Faro de Punta de Malabrigo or Cape Malabrigo in Lobo, Batangas lands in my top three or trinity of epic lighthouses in the Philippines.  The other two, Cape Engano and Cape Bojeador, share a common impression with Cape Malabrigo... they all age beautifully, dramatically, and in an "endangered" way.

While Faro de Punta de Malabrigo is my secret hiding place in the South, it also holds a proof that our "endangered" lighthouses are aging beautifully.  Only few has discovered her even if she's only 2-3 hours drive from Manila via SLEX and Star Toll, then only an hour drive from Batangas City.  

Malabrigo Parola during sunset

Her grounds are amazing.  Since she's on a cliff facing the South islands of Mindoro and Verde Island, shadows from the rising and setting of the sun paint beautiful contrasts both inside and outside of the lighthouse.  A warm cup of Batangas Barako coffee while listening to Moby or Mandalay make patiently waiting for good light very relaxing.

Porch facing the Verde Island Passage

Not like other lighthouses, where noisy tourists are always part of the attraction, enjoying 
different kinds of flowers and trees populate the large lawn and provide all sorts of foregrounds from colorful to neutral hues.  These foregrounds make a good job in producing rare shots of the lighthouse.

Different vegetation found in the lighthouse grounds

Faro de Punta de Malabrigo's grounds does not only make her a one of a kind 18th century lighthouse, it is also an architectural testament of her era's details found in the doors, jalousies, and porch.  I am not an architect, but these details transported me back in time when she was still in her most pristine state.  Even the chosen colors of the bricks and doors, give a unique contrast against the color of her surroundings.

Spanish colonial style architecture

A careful turn of the door knob lets me in the quiet hallways where I can only hear my own breathing.  Slowly, they became as loud as my imagination of other entities looming together with my footsteps. It was clear that amounts of respects while using these hallways and windows are important.  

Blurry effect to simulate an 18th century feel

But when these bricks chip off and iron porch railings begin to rust, you see the real state of Faro de Punta de Malabrigo, or other "endangered" lighthouses in the Philippines.  While the Local Government Unit of Lobo, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Thompson family maintain and safeguard the lighthouse, it is also our duty as tourists to preserve a century old structure.  

Bricks chipping off need renovating in some quarters of the lighthouse

In 2006, the website Lighthouse News ( mentioned unauthorized filming by an independent filmmaker damaged portions of the Faro de Punta de Malabrigo lighthouse.  The website said:  "Film equipment dragged across the 100-year-old hardwood floors have left permanent deep gouges. Whatever was left of doors and windows original to the lighthouse have been torn open. Props had been randomly hammered into the 19th-century walls of limestone or hardwood."

Damaged windows by vandals

Here are my "nail" or bullet points on how to take care of our lighthouses as visitors:

A rusty nail used in a damaged wooden wall

    • Move slow and no big groups inside.  Century old floors, railings, and walls are fragile. 
    • Do not vandalize.  Only animals leave marks to claim territories.  
    • When doors and gates are locked, caretaker is not there, do not enter.
    • Apply "no take zone" rule.  Do not take any souvenirs (only pictures) since it is a National Historic Landmark.
    • Know more about Philippine Coastguard's "Adopt a Lighthouse Program" if your organization likes to take part, like what the Thompson's did in Cape Malabrigo.
    • Travel more and visit towns housing lighthouses to create more community based and sustainable tourism jobs.  

    Old lighthouse fence to protect the lighthouse

    So let our lighthouses age naturally, because from being classified as endangered establishments, they can soon be extinct if we don't do our part.  Our children and future generations may not be able to see them anymore.  

    Aged jalousies that stand the test of time and weather